Big Oil's Top 3 Spenders Lavish $17.6 million in Lobbying 'Hush Money' in 2017

Melissa Johnson-Camancho, an RN who is also with California Nurses Association, talks about the health impacts of oil drilling at the Oil Money Out press conference on January 23 at the State Capitol in Sacramento. Photo by Dan Bacher. |  

By Dan Bacher | February 3, 2018 |  

Every January 31 is a big day in documenting the play-to-pay politics that dominate politics in California, supposedly the nation’s “green leader.” That’s the deadline for all lobbyists and employers of lobbyists to file their financial reports from the previous year with the State of California. 

The results are now in — and spending on influencing government officials in California amounted to a total of $339 million in 2017.  That eclipses the previous record of $314.7 million set in 2015.  

Big Oil dominated three out of the four top spots of expenditures by all lobbying organizations, according to documents from the California Secretary of State’s Office.

Outspending all of their competition, Chevron placed first with $8.2 million and the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), the trade association for the oil industry in the states of California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada and Arizona, spent  $6.2 million. Tesoro Refining and Marketing Company finished fourth with $3.2 million. You can find the information on spending by employers of lobbyists here: cal-access.sos.ca.gov/...

That’s a total of $17.6 million dumped into lobbying by the three top oil industry lobbying organizations alone. That figure exceeds the $14,577,314 expended by all 16 oil lobby organizations in 2016. 

Why was so much money spent by Big Oil? 

Catherine Reheis-Boyd, WSPA’s President and the former Chair of the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative Blue Ribbon Task Force to create “marine protected areas” in Southern California, told the Los Angeles Times, “The spending by the petroleum association reflects ‘the enormous number of issues confronting the energy industry in California, and the potential impact those issues have on energy producers, refiners, consumers and businesses.”

Liza Tucker, Consumer Advocate for Consumer Watchdog, has a much different take on the reasons why Big Oil spent so much money last year. 

“Big Oil uses its money as hush money,” said Tucker. “Donations to political campaigns, causes, and ballot measures, in addition to lobbying dollars, ensure that state investigations of crooked business practices are never launched, that scientific recommendations on banning fracking and watering of crops with oil waste water are never applied, and that something as elementary as a decent buffer zone between urban residents and oil rigs is never mandated,” she stated.

Big Oil’s big coup last year was its writing of Jerry Brown’s “cap-and-trade” (pollution trading) bill, AB 398, “so full of loopholes that it remains cheaper for companies to pay chump change to pollute than invest real money into reducing carbon emissions,” noted Tucker. 

“Big Oil also banned local air regulators from regulating carbon emissions at all, and limited state regulators to regulation only through cap-and-trade, which does not work to reduce carbon emissions,” she said.

The timing of the spending documents her contention. Chevron spent $6,153,952, a record for spending by Big Oil in one quarter, in the second quarter and another $1,119,056 in the third quarter when the legislation was making its way through the Legislature. 

Likewise, the Western States Petroleum Association paid $2,528,750 in the second quarter and $2,290,408 in the third quarter to lobby California officials.  

Tesoro paid $2,207,655 in the second quarter and $200,855 in the third quarter to lobby legislators and other state officials.   

During the same period, Chevron, WSPA, Tesoro and other oil industry interests were able to defeat Senate Bill 188, a bill authored by Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) to prohibit new pipelines or other infrastructure needed to support new federal oil and gas development.

Senator Jackson introduced SB 188 in response to President Donald Trump’s executive order last year opening the door to expanded offshore oil and gas drilling in federal waters off the California coast.

The Committee on Appropriations, chaired by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, D-San Diego, held the bill in suspension during their hearing on Friday, September 1, 2017.  

Then in response to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s January 4 announcement to open federal waters along the Pacific, Atlantic and Gulf Coasts to new federal offshore oil and gas drilling, Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) and Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi (D-Torrance) announced on January 5 that they are reintroducing legislation to protect the state from new federal offshore oil drilling.

Like the previous bill, Jackson and Muratsuchi’s legislation ensures that pipelines and other infrastructure cannot be built in California waters to support any new federal oil development. 

In the Senate, Jackson will carry Senate Bill 834, also jointly authored by Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens). Muratsuchi will carry an identical companion measure, Assembly Bill 1775, in the State Assembly, also jointly authored by Assemblymember Monique Limón (D-Santa Barbara).

The legislation prohibits the State Lands Commission from approving any new leases for pipelines, piers, wharves, or other infrastructure needed to support new federal oil and gas development in the three-mile area off the coast that is controlled by the state. SB 844 would also prohibit any lease renewal, extension or modification that would support the production, transportation or processing of new oil and gas, according to Jackson’s Office. 

This bill faces a uphill battle to pass through the Legislature and an even bigger challenge to be signed by Governor Jerry Brown before he leaves office, due to the expected gusher of lobbying money by Big Oil to defeat the legislation.

In the bizzare type of irony that defines politics in California, Catherine Reheis-Boyd, the Western States Petroleum Association President, chaired the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative Blue Ribbon Task Force to create questionable “marine protected areas” in Southern California, the same so-called “Yosemites of the Sea” that would be devastated by any future oil spills from the expansion of offshore drilling in federal waters. She also served on the task forces to create so-called “marine protected areas” on the Central Coast, North Central Coast and North Coast from 2004 to 2012. 

At the same time, Governor Jerry Brown has already done in state waters what Trump wants to do in federal waters — expand offshore oil drilling. That’s right — Brown’s regulators have approved 238 new offshore oil wells in state waters under existing leases, an increase of 17 percent since 2012, according to an analysis by the nonprofit FracTracker Alliance.

The FracTacker Alliance report is available here: https://www.fractracker.org/2017/02/more-offshore-drilling-ca/  

The California Oil Lobby was the biggest spender in the 2015-16 legislative session, spending an amazing $36.1 million on lobbying over the two-year period. Big Oil spending last session amounted to $1.5 million per month — nearly $50,000 per day.

In addition, Jerry Brown has received over $9.8 million from oil companies, gas companies and utilities since he ran for his third term as governor, according to Consumer Watchdog. For more information on Governor Brown and his so-called "green" policies, see: http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/sites/default/files/2017-09/how_green_is_brown.pdf

WSPA and Big Oil use their money and power in 5 ways: through (1) lobbying; (2) campaign spending; (3) creating Astroturf groups: 4) working in collaboration with media; and (5) getting appointed to positions on and influencing regulatory panels, as in the case of the MLPA Initiative.





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